An hour-by-hour breakdown of our short time in Hawaii.
Mahalo means thank you and you will hear it everywhere you go when you ride Hawaiian Airlines. When you are getting late to your terminal, Mahalo! When you are getting bags searched while your flight isboarding, Mahalo! When they tell you there is not enough room for your bags, you get the idea. The good people of Hawaiian Airlines want to give us an authentic feel of Hawaii and that’s why the flight attendants wear flowered shirts, the women have flowers over their ear and first classers are surrounded by nothing but flowers. The flight safety video also has two attractive Hawaiian natives taking us step-by-step through the ubiquitous regulations adding Hawaiian phrases to make the video incredibly riveting. For the first time, I sat through the entire safety video and can easily locate the four exit doors, two at the front and two at the back.
We wait in baggage claim for Aman’s suitcase. The bag doesn’t come. We find out that the bag has already been shipped to Las Vegas. Turns out, we were spending such a short time in Hawaii they saw it as a stopover and decided to send his bag out to our next step. We shrug and haul ass towards the rental car center.
We drive into Honolulu and it feels like Houston. There is an interstate, graffiti on the streets, and countless Asian-themed diners around the vicinity. I was expecting expansive beaches and hula dancers emerging from the sand right as we exited the plane.
The first place on our itinerary to visit is Shangri-La, the house of Doris Duke, the daughter of multi-millionaire James Buchanan Duke sand the primary heir of his entire fortune when he passed away. Her life had always been under the gun of tabloids. She was beautiful, young and had a lot of money. She was the Paris Hilton of her time. Doris married at age 23 and during her extravagant honeymoon she fell in love with the Muslim world and began purchasing art from the region. Her honeymoon ended in Hawaii where she ended up buying some property and built it as a summer home with nothing but Islamic themed artwork and architecture. The house was called Shangri-La and became her own private paradise.
Doris Duke passed away in 1993. In her will she requested Shangri-La to be opened to the public and be used to promote Islamic art and culture. So now, the house has thousands of visitors a year that are fascinated by her collection and leave with a deep appreciation for Islamic culture. There is also a foundation started called the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art that helps to build mutual understanding between the US and the Muslim world. What’s quite funny is that many Muslims only know Doris Duke through the lens of her charity and goodwill and not at all through the tabloids and gossip columns of her time. She lives on now in a way that many would have never expected.
We park our car at a public beach parking lot near Shangri-La. A shirtless man approaches us aggressively and asks for a pen to write a number. He writes the number on his forearm and calls a friend over standing in the distance. The men start to get closer to us and I remember the three close-call muggings I had in Pakistan. I get ready to kick some ass if need be, but quickly remember my older brother’s advice on fighting. “You don’t know how to fight. If you ever get in one, just run.” So I ran.
I am now sitting on a resort beach that I snuck into. I see two dark South Asian men taking off their shirts and pants. They take turns tip-toeing into the beach and slowly fall into place. One is in his underwear and the other is in his boxer. The one in his whitey tidies looks like Mogli from the Jungle Book and the other looks like a sad pervert. They splash water at each other, slip on rocks and laugh hysterically – it looks like so much fun. I notice that we are the only people on this side of the beach. There are no cameras, no chance that any of this will be on Facebook. I take off my shoes and run into the beach with them.
I arrive at the mosque in my gym shorts and wet shirt. I walk around the vicinity in hopes of drying up. A minute later, I go back into the car to put on my usual get-up. I notice that my jeans are getting tighter and my thighs are getting bigger. It has only been four days of Ramadan and already I’m gaining weight! I take a second and blame all the aunties from the past four days for feeding me nothing but biryani and pizza and promise myself to not eat anymore unhealthy mosque food after today. But as I leave the car, I find out from one of the younger guys that there won’t be an iftar today.
“You should come next week, there will be a great meal then.”
“I won’t be here.”
“Oh yeah? When are you leaving?”
I look at my watch.
“In two hours.”
The mosque is a house with subtle accents in the arches. From what the congregants say, it is the first and only mosque in Honolulu. I meet two elderly men sitting in the back of the mosque and strike up a conversation.
Yusuf, on the left, is an illustrator from Jordan. He draws caricatures in hotel lobbies or by the boardwalk in downtown. His friend, on the right, is visiting from his summer home in Big Island and is staying at the mosque for the next couple of days. I sit with them and get the spiel of the community. Like many small mosques, it is very diverse and it’s hard to pinpoint which group of people hold the majority. There are about 3,000 Muslims in Honolulu. Some are doctors others are engineers. Some of the American folk were brought here because they were stationed at the military base. The Palestinians work as car mechanics and many of the South Asians are physicians.
After getting to this point in the conversation, there is nothing left to talk about. We nod our heads awkwardly mumbling “alhamdullilah,” and “mashaAllah.” I see a cat run into the mosque and slowly walk towards it.
The mosque doesn’t have a break fast dinner tonight and we need to eat something before our flight. We go into two or three different restaurants and cant seem to find any place that doesn’t have a fifteen minute wait. We get out of our car and start walking down a small line of restaurants that are actually Asian strip clubs. We scratch our heads, not sure what to eat. We decide it is best to eat airport food.
It is 9 something and I am sitting in an empty airplane watching elated honeymooners and white kids with harsh sunburn stroll in. Everyone is tired, laying on one another. I am trying to close my eyes and get some rest. We will be in Vegas in less than six hours.
Soon enough the flight safety video with the beautiful people plays and slowly the lights dim in the cabin. The flight takes off and so does the ukulele music. The music reminds me of SpongeBob. I don’t think that was what the Hawaiian Airlines folks were going for. They might have failed in giving me an authentic feel of Hawaii in four hours, but who’s to say giving you a ten hour glimpse would be any more genuine?
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